History of Western Music (Fourth Edition)

Concise History of Western Music (Fourth Edition)


Why do i feel there are no great composers in the 21st century? (or late 20th)
The most engaging and accessible brief survey of Western music history, at the best value on the market. Based on A History of Western Music, by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca, Concise History of Western Music, Fourth Edition, offers authoritative coverage of the essential works and genres in Western music history. By setting musical events into a memorable historical and cultural context, Concise History of Western Music provides a history students will read and…

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Why do i feel there are no great composers in the 21st century? (or late 20th)(r/classicalmusic)

One thing you should probably do is ask why, and how, do you feel that composers are great? Where does this aura of greatness come from?

>that every period of time there lived a great composer, whos work was venerated at the time of his life…

The social, political and economic mechanisms that work to apply the descriptor of “greatness,” the mechanisms of canonization, have changed considerably since the baroque, classical and romantic periods. For instance (and this is only one component of many that contribute to canonization), models of patronage have changed considerably – by and large we no longer have nobility as it was in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Much of the reason why we have the idea of great masters from those times was because of courtly patronage – the works of a select few composers survived the erosion of history due to their courtly sponsorship (much of historical musicology in the West is focused on digging up lesser known contemporaries of more famous dudes, people who were attached to lesser courts, for instance).

Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, nationalism instead of nobility served to prop-up many sanctioned artists. It is not that those composers weren’t great, but their work could survive because the social structures reinforced what they did.

More modern patronage structures reinforce different behaviors – corporate sponsors usually want popular acts that sell. Private, individual wealthy art donors (maybe the new nobility, or vestiges of the old nobility) do contribute to much of the art and music that is made today, but their powers are nowhere near that of national or old-royal levels.

>Where have they all gone? Why do I feel like we dont have any more good music?

They, great artists, are still here, but the models of patronage and mechanisms of fame have changed and proliferated around them -subcultures are probably more important now.

Probably the single most important agent of change in “classical” music has been recording technology. In the early twentieth century, notated music was still the normal way of distributing music – people had to play it themselves, and music literacy (reading music) was still quite high.

By the late twentieth century, recordings had become the primary way of consuming music (and consuming is maybe a new and important word here). Notated music is still clinging to life in our school systems, and some popular musicians use it (and if you are going to be a studio musician, you will need to read your ass off), but for the most part, the masses learn popular music by ear and by rote from recordings (although, curiously, the “piano roll” style of notation found in software programs such as Ableton Live, Reason, and Logic may indeed be the new symbolic language of music… ).

The scribe-hood of notated music composition, the Western classical tradition, has become anachronistic in the eyes of most of society, and many talented musicians simply attempt to go into popular music, which has its own gauntlet of fame. The subcultures devoted to notated music may find new synergies with subcultures that use software environments because both share an externalized artifact (score, or sequence) that may be examined, out-of-time.

Anyway, that rant got a little far out, but hopefully it makes sense.

If you really want to understand AND LOVE late 20th and 21st century music in the Western classical tradition, start reading about it from expert sources, from people who are devoted to it and love it themselves (it will rub off on you). Maybe bolster your knowledge of the preceding centuries with A Concise History of Western Music and follow it up with Modern Music and After, or just get the later if you are strapped for time.

TL;DR: The mechanisms that apply the label of “greatness” have both changed drastically and proliferated, as have models of patronage and music education. Great artist are still out there, we just can’t agree on who they are yet.


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Barbara Russano Hanning

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W. W. Norton & Company

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Concise History of Western Music (Fourth Edition)

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Why do i feel there are no great composers in the 21st century? (or late 20th)

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